Recently I came across a post I wrote when my children were very young:

Today, the toddler got up (instead of napping, like I thought), took off a dirty diaper, attempted to clean up the mess, then got distracted with spooling toilet paper into the bowl. THE ENTIRE ROLL.

This is a normal occurrence in my life these days, but today it was during The Sacred Hour of Quiet Time, and I’m unhappy about it. The very last thing I want to hear right now is, “Cherish these moments with your children! You’ll miss them.” Because I WON'T.

Now that the young-kid years are far behind me (my youngest is 11), I can look on those years a little more objectively. And you know what?

I still don’t cherish those moments.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved watching those little people grow in curiosity and enthusiasm. Everything was interesting—alphabet, bugs, cooking, counting, dirt, colors. I enjoyed holding the little bodies who could curl up in my lap. I smile when I remember how they would shout with excitement every time Darren got home from work.

Yet I don’t miss the messes, the meltdowns, and the neediness. I like breezing right past the diaper aisle in Wal-Mart without a second glance. I’ve given away all my alphabet games, and our math books aren’t very colorful. Sometimes I have a sneaking worry: did I squander those years by not appreciating them?

I don’t think so. That’s because one “older-mom” voice told me something different from “cherish every moment!” In a blog post, that mom suggested that we “cherish some moments.”

Not every moment is one we want to remember. Others, however, are so beautiful that we want to keep them forever. We make those moments into little souvenirs and keep them in a mental shadowbox, where we can revisit them and cherish them all over again.

Where did I get the shadowbox idea? Well, one afternoon many years ago, I discovered my display box of honeymoon mementoes on the floor, a hole torn in the cardboard backing. Although the items inside weren’t damaged, I struggled to keep my temper. A very young Gamerboy said penitently, “Mea culpa.” He’d been paying attention to Darren’s impromptu Latin lesson the day before, and my surprise and pleasure helped take the edge off my anger. I still have the shadowbox (twenty years old this year!). But I also added the memory of that apologetic little face in my mental shadowbox, and I cherish that too.

Another time, we went to the park for a walk, but Bookgirl insisted on sitting at a picnic table, drawing in her notebook. It was a bit hard to have family time when she wouldn’t join us. The following day, Mother’s Day, she presented me with her drawing of a grand house with ornate front doors, and a mysterious figure peering out of an upper window. She knew it was the kind of picture I liked, so she’d made one herself. That picture still hangs on my wall, and the moment is enshrined in my memory box.

As far as school goes, I’ve been homeschooling for fourteen years. Please don’t make me cherish every one of those days. But I go back to some memories often. I think of three-year-old Sparkler sounding out simple words. I laugh when I remember how Ranger concocted a math puzzle for me; he calculated all of it in his head, but I had to use beads as a visual to figure it out.

I cherish the memories of introducing Bookgirl to Pride & Prejudice and watching the six-hour miniseries together. Just this year, as Gamerboy and I work through his pre-calculus course together, I cheer when he grasps a concept and laugh at his silly asides during the online lectures. Will I want to repeat every moment of pre-calculus? No. Will some memories make me smile if Gamerboy is ever teaching math to his children? Absolutely.

Every stage, whether as a parent or a homeschooler, has its upsides and downsides. Insisting that we appreciate every dang moment with our children puts unnecessary pressure on us. While I acknowledge and learn from the bad experiences, I don’t keep them on display. Instead, I concentrate on filling my mental shadowbox with reminders of the funny or beautiful or touching moments.

And I cherish all of those moments.

—Sara Jones

Photo credit: iStock